There has been a 60 per cent reduction in the number of brothels, “massage parlours” and other “dubious establishments” in Croydon since the start of an anti-trafficking campaign in the borough six years ago, according to a local action group.
Peter Cox is the chair of CCAT – Croydon Campaign Against Trafficking – which launched in 2006 to try to reduce the exploitation of vulnerable young people, many of them brought to London from abroad with bogus offers of work but for whom the reality once here is little more than abuse and misery as a 21st century sex slave.
With the UK Border Agency being based in central Croydon, brothel-owners have often based their operations nearby to provide them with the opportunity to prey upon vulnerable foreigners whose entry to the country is delayed for whatever reason, giving parts of the borough a seedy reputation.
CCAT’s campaigning has often been about raising people’s awareness of this modern-day slave trade, but recently it has had a number of important successes, famously including embarrassing the publishers of the Brothel Sadvertiser into ending its lucrative role in pimping for Croydon’s brothel-owners by carrying their advertisements. Click here for more on this saga.
“Since we started about six years ago, there is now a much greater awareness of what trafficking is all about,” Cox told Inside Croydon shortly after the sponsored Stiletto Walk through the borough last Saturday. “Originally we had to ‘educate’ the public but now there is an understanding among many more people.
“Since the Sex in the City Report that was collated about 2004 there are now fewer dubious establishments in Croydon. In 2004 the report pointed towards about 120 places but CCAT intelligence gathering suggests it is now around 50,” Cox said.
Not that Cox or CCAT is resting on well-deserved laurels. “Much of this change must be down to CCAT pressure but we must remember that traffickers are experts at moving people and their operations around so, once they know someone is on to them, they pick up and go.
“With most local papers dropping ads, there is now more promotion on the internet and via cards in the smaller convenience stores around the borough. CCAT is still following these through.”
Many of the factors that ought to make Croydon good for business also work towards making the borough an ideal place for the oldest profession. “Croydon, being a busy place, having good transport links, a business centre and being very multi-cultural, is also a good place for ads in stores for dubious places outside the borough,” Cox said.
“Consequently it is vital there is joined-up borough thinking and preventative action in future.”
The UK Borders Agency offices not only draw many people from overseas to Croydon, but also focuses the activities of some whose conduct is less innocent. “It is hard to say how much of all that goes on is linked to UKBA work,” Cox said.
“If people want to live in UK they have to come to Croydon at some stage to have their application checked out by UKBA. Those from outside the EU often have documentation problems and are sent away to get it all sorted. Where do they stay when this happens?
“Traffickers must know this and can pounce on the vulnerable.
“In general terms the UKBA tend to look at people issues from an immigration perspective, essentially assessing whether people have a right to be in this country as their priority. With pressure on them to keep our borders more secure and to let fewer people in, I wonder what they think when they see a traumatised trafficked person in front of them who doesn’t have the right papers to be here in the first place?
“It must be difficult for their staff and I wonder if they are sufficiently resourced to handle these issues.”
With the police in Croydon taking a more pro-active approach to the trafficking issues, as well as issuing warnings to local papers that carried ads for brothels, CCAT has made a lot of progress over the past couple of years, but Cox reckons that their task is far from over.
Instances continue to come to light. Even in the past month, four girls from Latvia, some as young as 17 who had been lured to England on the promise of a “holiday” but who were soon being forced to work as prostitutes, were rescued after the intervention of staff at the budget hotel where they were being kept in virtual captivity.
Cox said: “Croydon is in better shape to deal with trafficking today but, as trafficking knows no boundaries, in practice we can only be as effective in helping victims if all the other boroughs in the south-east take the same vigilant approach.
“We are making progress but there is still much to do.”
- Croydon and the 21st Century slave trade – read more about the issues by clicking here
- For more information on CCAT, to volunteer to help or make donations, click here
- Inside Croydon: For comment and analysis about Croydon, from inside Croydon
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- Westfield swoops in early with planning application for Croydon (insidecroydon.com)
- Hammerson steps up Croydon battle with Westfield (telegraph.co.uk)
- Children in care ‘go missing’, warn trafficking experts (independent.co.uk)